Christian Life/Personal Holiness: February 2008 Archives

Continuing the Theme


Natural and supernatural--the relationship between them is the key to understanding much of the natural world. This excerpt from a longer essay by Orlando's Bishop Thomas Wenski is a hint in that direction:

from an Essay in the Orlando Sentinel
Bishop Thomas Wenski

And so the church supports the teaching of evolution as the best available account of how nature works. But, at the same time, the church rejects certain erroneous philosophical theories that are sometimes associated with it. To insist, as some scientists have done, that evolution requires a materialistic or an atheistic understanding of the human person or of the entire universe is to stray beyond the proper realm of science itself. To argue such a neo-Darwinist conception of a mechanistic universe without any sign of intelligent order is to argue from a philosophical bias and not from the results of any scientific investigation.

The scientific method has proved to be a powerful instrument in assisting mankind to come to a greater understanding of the world and how it works. However, as a method, it is limited to the physical objects and their relationships. Scientific knowledge does not extend beyond the physical, and, therefore, it is not sufficient to answer all the questions that men inevitably pose about themselves and their world.

As Catholics we believe that mankind was created by God for himself; that is, we are destined to share the communion of the life of the Holy Trinity. We are in physical continuity with the rest of life on the planet through the process of evolution. But, because we each have a spiritual soul created directly by God, we also are qualitatively different from other living beings. Science can rightly explore man's continuity with the rest of life, and thus uncover the causal chains by which God prepared the way for appearance of the human race. But, it is theology's realm, aided by Divine Revelation, to explore those dimensions of human existence that cannot be the objects of scientific explanation.

The Catholic Church does not have to reject the theory of evolution in order to affirm our belief in our Creator. As Catholics, we can affirm an understanding of evolution that is open to the full truth about the human person and about the world. With appropriate catechesis at home and in the parish on God as Creator, even our children in public schools should be able to achieve an integrated understanding of the means God chose to make us who we are.

(The Entire Essay)

Properly understood, the natural world takes its essence from the supernatural but its form (existence) from the rule governing the natural. God does not normally choose to intrude upon these governing principles. If evolution is one of these organizing principles, it is not in contradiction to the supernatural.

It has been pointed out before, by many and myriad, that evolution as a scientific understanding of the origin of life and development of diversity is not a problem. What is a problem is the unprovable and unscientific philosophical trappings that come with it. As Bishop Wenski points out--the development of life through evolution does not necessitate a materialistic or atheistic interpretation of the universe. Indeed, such an interpretation is far outside the bounds of science. Science has no intelligible comment to make on the existence or non-existence of God. Science exists to explain the natural world--a subset of the supernatural world. With its instruments and its philosophical underpinnings, it is incapable of plumbing the depths of the supernatural; however, it can occasionally point in that direction. As Gödel pointed out there are propositions and theorems that can be made from within a system that are unprovable with the axioms and corallaries of that system. The existence or nonexistence of God is one of those theorems that are unprovable and therefore beyond the bounds of the natural system we call science.

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The Supernatural Life


Yesterday's gospel reading provoked an interesting series of thoughts:

'The woman said to him,
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty
or have to keep coming here to draw water.” '

Reading this, it occurred to me that this is all too often my reaction. I'm told about the beauty of the supernatural life, about its promise and its durability. My immediate expectation is that when I embrace this life things will somehow be changed--there will be no more trials and sufferings and heartache and pain. I shouldn't have to go and fetch water from the well any more. Food should pop out of the oven already prepared and beautifully proportioned and seasoned. After all, isn't that more or less what Jesus promises with the whole "yoke is easy, burden light" rhetoric?

No, it isn't. Yesterday it finally slapped me upside the head. The supernatural life is NOT the counternatural life. The supernatural, as the name implies, sits about the natural and contains the natural as a subset of it. That is the supernatural life, the war in heaven, is the real life that we only catch glimpses of through the sacraments. Only rarely are we privileged to see the supernatural life superceding and counteracting the natural life--we call such moments miracles. But the physcially miraculous is only a very tiny part of the supernatural life.

The awareness of the supernatural life and the constant participation in it does change everything--absolutely EVERYTHING. But it neither contradicts it nor does it normally change the parameters of it. What it does change is our perception of what we are about in this life. That change of perception is critical. Once we have tasted the living water we cannot be satisfied with anything less. Once we have seen the Kingdom we cannot continue to live in the desert. The glimpse and understanding of the supernatural life sets everything around us in context. Pain, suffering, outrage, horror, even psychological stress and disease do not pass away. Rather, they become meaningful in a way that, formerly, they were not. Suffering means something because suffering here and now is part of the war in heaven, the battle of angels. The saints speak of sharing in the suffering of Christ as though it alleviated some of that suffering, and in some sense we can understand that when we see that our little suffering contributes to the overall victory--when we suffer in the knowledge of that ultimate victory and in the embrace of it.

So, the key point--the supernatural life is not counternatural. We should not expect that the embrace of it will immediately change all circumstances and change all those things that tempt us and try us. It won't. It will change us--it will make us amenable to further change, to the transformation that leads to the ability to lead an eternal life. But it will not suddenly undo all the choices we have made. If we enter into it tempted by greed, pride, or lust, we will continue to be tempted. However, we will have an awareness of new resources to draw upon. We will have the ability to turn the leadership of the battle over to someone who knows the path to victory, and we can become the footsoldiers we were meant to be--not trying by ourselves to conquer sin, but meekly following the lead of He who does it for us. In this is our victory and our ability to lead others to victory. We are promised a transformed life, but the transformation is not on the level of not needing to eat or drink or exercise or do all those things we do in a day. Rather the transformation is in knowing that whatever it is we do, we never do it alone--we never do it without help and without being loved into eternity.

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Here is the fundamental ground of hope. God is not a scorekeeper. He is not out measuring every doctrinal deviation or venial infraction. His concern is not with evening things out and making the playing field level. Indeed, His concern is lifting each person, every one of us to Him. He has no interest in finding reasons to keep us out of heaven--indeed His chief interest is to clear the obstacles that prevent us from choosing heaven.

The vast majority of humanity are little children--easily distracted, easily led astray, easily returned to a momentary interest in what is important, and then distracted again. He knows that. So time and again His message of love comes to each one person and encourages a return to Him.

He does not count our trespasses against us any more than we would count a todler's transgressions. And, if we, being evil, know how to give what is good, then how much more so Our Heavenly Father who is good.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Christian Life/Personal Holiness category from February 2008.

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: November 2007 is the previous archive.

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